FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
USCCB link to all readings
Jesus said to his disciples:
"Do not let your hearts be troubled.
You have faith in God; have faith also in me.
In my Father's house there are many dwelling places.
If there were not,
would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?
And if I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come back again and take you to myself,
so that where I am you also may be.
Where I am going you know the way."
Thomas said to him,
"Master, we do not know where you are going;
how can we know the way?"
Jesus said to him, I am the way and the truth and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
If you know me, then you will also know my Father.
From now on you do know him and have seen him."
Philip said to him,
"Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us."
Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you for so long a time
and you still do not know me, Philip?
Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.
How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?
The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own.
The Father who dwells in me is doing his works.
Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me,
or else, believe because of the works themselves.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever believes in me will do the works that I do,
and will do greater ones than these,
because I am going to the Father."
There is a lot of pressure on pastors to observe Mother’s Day, and by extension, to include some kind of Marian devotional such as a May Crowning, on the civil observance of Mother’s Day. I can’t guarantee with a straight face that in your local church you will hear preaching on the Gospel text per se, as called for by the Lectionary/Roman Missal, which takes no note of this U.S. civil custom. However, I take note of Pope John Paul II’s 1998 Apostolic Letter Dies Domini (Day of the Lord):
80. There is a need for special pastoral attention to the many situations where there is a risk that the popular and cultural traditions of a region may intrude upon the celebration of Sundays and other liturgical feast-days, mingling the spirit of genuine Christian faith with elements which are foreign to it and may distort it. In such cases, catechesis and well-chosen pastoral initiatives need to clarify these situations, eliminating all that is incompatible with the Gospel of Christ. At the same time, it should not be forgotten that these traditions — and, by analogy, some recent cultural initiatives in civil society — often embody values which are not difficult to integrate with the demands of faith. It rests with the discernment of Pastors to preserve the genuine values found in the culture of a particular social context and especially in popular piety, so that liturgical celebration — above all on Sundays and holy days — does not suffer but rather may actually benefit.
Thus, present Church guidance on the subject is not exactly rock solid, leaving local bishops and pastors to decide how to manage this Sunday’s observance. Substituting Sunday readings is a rather serious liturgical offense; even a bishop who confirms on Sunday is bound to use the Sunday readings. Ignoring the Sunday readings in the sermon, on the other hand, is as common as dandelions nearly everywhere I go.
In any event, John 14 introduces the Last Supper Discourse, a four-chapter segment in which Jesus addresses the problem of what will happen to the disciples he will leave behind. Again, it bears reminding that this text was written much later than the actual Last Supper, almost a century later by some reckoning, so the thrust of John’s text is just as validly directed toward our generation as to the troubled church community of John’s time. Last week I spelled out some of the heresies prevalent in John’s time; in Sunday’s Gospel text, it is somewhat easy to pick up strands of theological response, such as Jesus’ reply to Philip that “whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” a clear declaration of what we call today the doctrine of the Incarnation, the Word [God} become flesh [human].
If the disciples are troubled, they have right to be. The conclusion of Chapter 13 recounts Jesus’ words to Peter, “Amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.” Not only was Jesus’ destiny a mystery to them, but their own identity as his followers was shaken to the core in the process. Thus, the need to walk them through “the plan.” In the opening twelve chapters Jesus had spoken in signs; now he “speaks plainly” though the struggles of the disciples here and throughout the Last Supper discourse give credence to the probability that the early church needed some time to get its bearings secured.
There is something of an apocalyptic revival in John’s Gospel. The very first New Testament writing, Paul’s letter to Thessalonica in around 50 A.D., is very apocalyptic, with its future-oriented subject matter being the Second Coming of Jesus, which was expected imminently. However, in subsequent New Testament writing the church came to grips with living in the here and now, most notably in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Luke, in particular, develops the sacramental principle of Christ in our midst now, in the breaking of the bread.
It is interesting, then, that the last of the canonical New Testament writers would return to a futuristic emphasis upon not only Jesus’ destiny—which, despite current circumstances, was assumed to be good—but the destiny of the disciples, and by extension, the church. Jesus’ extensive opening words of comfort are centered around the ideas that (1) the Father’s “place” is also the destiny of the believer, and (2) Jesus’ return to the Father is assurance that they themselves will come into glory, specifically “to be with me.” The exhortation is to believe in Jesus.
Again, in this Gospel Thomas assumes the role of house foil, so to speak. On cue, he argues that the disciples do not know the way. His question provides Jesus with the opportunity to declare his identity and the role he plays for his followers. “I am (Greek, the divine ego eimi) the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus goes on to explain that “no one comes to the Father except through me.” Philip’s request to “show us the Father” allows Jesus to make the central tenet of Christian faith, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” It is worth noting here that it was not until the fourth century that the Church found creedal language to express this mysterious truth; the Council of Nicaea in 325 used the Greek word homoousios to describe Jesus as “of the same substance” as the Father. The Latin translation to English results in “consubstantial,” the word returned to the Mass in 2011.
The key to participation in future glory with Christ is a profound belief that Jesus, as God, is the Savior, now and in the future. For this reason, the Sunday Gospel text concludes with his words that whoever owns such faith will do greater signs and deeds than Jesus himself performed, “because I am going to the Father.” There is a sense here that the vigorous work of the church cannot really begin until Jesus has returned to his Father, which is in fact the condition of the Church in the post-Resurrection era, and that the Father will now work through the followers directly, as He had with Jesus in his earthly sojourn.
Regrettably, the magnificent Last Supper Discourse of John is proclaimed partially over a few episodes of successive Sundays until Ascension Thursday. Chapters 14 through 17 in their entirety are much worth your while as a source of meditation and prayer. I have a link to the NABRE translations of these chapters here. I should also note that the U.S. Bishops’ site has just begun a podcast service of each day’s readings—Sundays and weekdays—through I-Tunes with a link here.
I am late today because the Café carpets were cleaned, particularly at my computer console. As of 7:21 PM the carpet is dry enough to finish today’s post. The carpet at my work station is a lovely coffee color. Unfortunately, when I started posting here three years ago, the carpet was grey.